Wednesday 31 October 2012

Exclusive: Four out of five polls are wrong (including this one)

Thank goodness for polls. Without them we wouldn't know what to eat, what to wear, which shampoo really makes your hair naturally curly and bouncy, and, almost as importantly, who to vote for.
Whiskas ran a popular ad campaign back in the 1820s or thereabouts, you wouldn't remember anyway, in which they claimed "Eight out of ten cats said they preferred it". (It was later changed, after the Advertising Piffling Pedantic Party-pooper Association discovered that cats can't actually talk, to the far more accurate: "77% of people who own, or share accommodation with, cats, or other animals of a feline nature, when surveyed, on average, within a 2-standard deviation of the mean, expressed a preference, when pushed, if they had to, for cat food." Which, you must agree, just trips off the tongue.) It was a great ad campaign, and has been widely mimicked over the years – what better praise can one get?

Newspapers love market surveys, no matter how misleading and unhelpful they may be.
Last month, the Jerusalem Post had a lead story along the lines of "Our exclusive survey results: Imaginary party headed by all the centre-left politicos and ex-politicos (not currently in jail) could prove the winning ticket." In their poll, they discovered that a party with the unlikely combination of Tzipi Livni (popular ex-leader who disappointed everyone by coming first in the last elections), Ehud Olmert (ex-prime minister, who recently starred in a court serial drama until it was suddenly pulled), Shaul Mofaz (current party leader, though no one knows where he is) and Yair Lapid (future party leader and ex-bank pin-up) could indeed beat the Likud favourites. Which takes some imagination, as the four wouldn't even share an antipasti let alone a platform. Yet another article for the chattering classes that served no purpose.
In today's The Times of Israel, an electoral poll suggested that Moshe Kahlon, a retiring popular Likud Member of Knesset (hey, he could be called MK MK) could end up as the second largest party, should he choose to run. In other words, "Non-existent party headed by man who has just left politics could come second in the vote." Well there's a useful waste of newsprint.
What should we expect next? "Eight out of ten people said they would buy something shiny if it came in very small handy sizes" or "Tuesdays would be far more popular if they came after Wednesdays, says our exclusive poll."

Moshe Kahlon bidding to set up the Vention 2012 Party  (Photo: Daniel Bar-On, Haaretz)
Now why exactly is Moshe Kahlon so popular?
Well for a start he promoted legislation that limited the commissions that banks charge us. You know the sort of thing: a few shekels for entering the bank, some more for asking a question, several more for having the audacity to want to take your own money out of your account.
But mostly for the past three years, as Minister of Mobile Phones (aka Minister of Communications), Kahlon has wrought changes that have probably benefited more middle- and low-income earners than anything he pushed through as Minister of the Tired, Poor and Huddled Masses (aka Minister of Welfare). He freed the phone market, allowing in more operators, and more network combinations including Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which if you're not quite sure what that means, wait after class and I'll explain it to you. But the main point is, he broke up the market, the products, the services. Instead of having to register with one company and buy your phone, your airtime, your number there, and stay there forever, trapped, at a high price, the market is now more accessible for all, at competitive prices. For example, the newest kids on the block (Golan Telecom and HOT Mobile) sell SIM cards, but not the handsets themselves. Prices are falling, the 'veteran' players are having to play a tougher game to keep their subscribers. New legislation has severely limited what fines must be paid if you choose to leave one of the telecoms companies (whether one of the cellphone companies or your cable or satellite TV company). And most significantly – without which all of these changes would be worthless – you can hop from one operator to another and take your phone number with you.
And in recognition of this, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel chose him as one of the handful of Knights of Quality Government last year, citing his work in "reforms intended to improve the status of the consumer in the telecoms market, particular in the cellphone sector, and including the lowering of connection fees and the introduction of new cellphone operators into the market."

Naturally in this topsy turvy world of Israeli movers and shakers, a popular, award-winning politician is the very type of individual who would choose to leave, and last month he announced he was forgoing politics for a quieter life. However, given the dearth and quality of the ones we're left with, and given that there are still five long weeks before lists have to be submitted for standing in the elections in January, anything could happen.
Anyway, he's a man to watch in my opinion. In fact eight out of ten of my opinions preferred him.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Israeli Elections: A Guide to the Befuddled

Voters in Israel will be heading for the ballot boxes in January 2013, and clearly someone needs to explain the confusing array of politicians and parties who are competing in the elections. This I am happy to do.
Warning: The article below expresses the sole opinion of the author and in no way should be taken as a recommendation, a hint, a slight suggestion, or even a dare, to vote for one particular party or individual or vice versa or even viva voce. Politics is a serious matter, and should not be taken lightly. (A well-known academic, who shall remain nameless, once accepted a political dare as a joke whilst drunk at a party in Jerusalem and ended up as finance minister for the past four years. What do we learn from this? Don't play with politics, drink sensibly, and be careful what parties you go to).

Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud Party). Front runner in the polls. Not to be confused with his much younger and immature twin brother, Bibi Netanyahu (prime minister from some time way back for about three very long years). Benjamin Netanyahu, learning from Bibi's mistakes, has been, in the words of a wily political commentator, "one of the finest prime ministers Israel has seen since 2009". His achievements have been both legendary and anecdotal, his anecdotes have achieved a great deal, and his legends have been stuff of anecdotes. Recognizing how stability is held dear by many in Israel, he has staunchly defended the status quo, and indeed, throughout his term of office, he has managed to keep the same hairdo, the same name, the same marriage, many of the same friends, the same coalition (except for the parties that left and others that joined), and the same currency (for which he has won praise, and not a little envy, from many of his European peers). In the past four years Israel has consistently kept her geographic position, the same Mediterranean climate, as well as her participatory-but-non-victorious role in the Eurovision Song Contest. Many commentators put Likud as the winner in the January elections, and judging by his smirk, Netanyahu concurs with this.

Shelley Yachimovich (Labor Bleedinghearty Party). Yachimovich, a former journalist and abrasive radio anchor, became leader of the beleaguered Labor Party in 2011, after then leader Ehud Barak left (unilaterally, in the dead of night, allegedly taking the list of members and keys to the herbal tea cupboard with him). Yachimovich, an active social rights campaigner, won the leadership contest in a close-fought battle against Amir Peretz, trade unionist and binocular salesman, with only four and a half votes between the two. Peretz and Yachimovich had previously been very chummy, at one time allegedly planning to open a hair-salon-cum-moustache-trimming business together in Sderot. Knesset shenanigans since then have made the Labor Party the largest outside of the governing coalition, and hence turned Yachimovich into the official Leader of the Opposition, which is apt as she opposes almost anything you care to suggest. 

Some have suggested that Israel move toward the Julius Caeser Transferable Vote System, where the election results are clear cut and decisive (but often messy)
Ehud Barak (Labour Party, Someotherthingy Party). Former Chief of Staff of Israel's defense forces, and prime minister. Once lived on the 35th floor of an exclusive luxury block of flats in downtown Tel Aviv, though following the wave of social protests, he has since moved down to the 21st floor so that he can have a closer look at the troubles that beset the proverbial 'man on the street'. With this type of bonhomie, and rapport with the common man, Barak has charmed so many people as he passes through politics from party to party, winning popularity before moving on, and winning hearts again and again. Now leader of the… wait a minute I had it written down somewhere… I can't remember, anyway, definitely the leader of a new Party, and likely to remain as leader well into January. The party itself will probably win a few votes, though would probably win more if I could only remember what it's called.

Ehud-is that brown envelope for me thanks just put it on the pile with the others-Olmert. (Kadima, Likud). Former prime minister and mayor of Jerusalem, one time small-town lawyer. He recently trounced the evil State Attorney's Office in court, being declared Absolutely Not Guilty of several nasty malicious allegations thrown at him, and for which he had to step down as Prime Minister in order to cook up a good story, sorry, I mean, in order to defend his innocence. Though he was found guilty on the minor charges of doodling on state-owned headed paper without permission and posing as an honest politician, there are many calls for Olmert to return to the political fray. Olmert has been widely acclaimed as a fine administrator (since his stint as PM all files in government are now stored alphabetically, and are also colour coded), and praised for his loose political leanings, and agile party maneuverability, which allowed him to push through plenty of achievements whilst in office. Finance is not his strong suit though: Olmert drove Jerusalem to bankruptcy whilst mayor, and was on his way to doing the same to the country, before he stepped down as PM early in 2009. Apparently Olmert is keen to get back to the Prime Minister's Office (though this may be because he believes there's a brown envelope left in one of the drawers marked Holiday Snaps by Rishon Tours Photo Services.)

There now, that should help.

Disclaimer: All of the above was correct at the time of publication, but may be subject to changes at any moment due to Middle East idiosyncrasies. Indeed, just as I finished typing the previous sentence, 85% of the above article became obsolete. Management apologises for any inconvenience.